I can remember growing up and rifling in awe through my grandma’s collection of spices. The sights and smells of things like mace, nutmeg and ginger were exotic to a curious 8-year-old. What did not seem that exotic, though, was a jar plainly labeled Lemon & Pepper. I mean, it smelled nice and all, but what was so special about lemon with pepper in it that it needed to be bottled and extolled on a shelf?
Remember when you were a kid and, by total happenchance, something flipped a switch in your head and made you realize that there was a whole world happening around you that you hadn’t paid much attention to before? Like your own little mini mental revolution? Familiarizing myself with that aromatic jar of black and yellow powder turned some sort of key in the lock of my view of the world. A blindfold I didn’t even know was there had been removed, and I started noticing lemon pepper everywhere: on restaurant menus, in other’s people’s kitchens, on cooking shows, at the grocery store. Apparently this was a thing. Apparently I’d also been fed a lot of it without even knowing it.
Somehow it’s less the flavor and more the idea of lemon pepper that reminds me of growing up. So many people around me reached for that red-labeled McCormick jar as their secret ingredient for weeknight dinners. (Or in the case of my dad, a guy whose cooking knowledge knows few frontiers, lemon pepper was a lifeline.) As an adult whose life now revolves around food, I reach for real lemon and freshly ground pepper. The flavor is much fresher. The nostalgia still tastes the same, though. It tastes like being young and blissfully ignorant — like finding something new hidden among the everyday.
Continue Reading Dinner Rush! Lemon-Pepper Chicken with Orzo
I spend a lot of time with recipes, usually writing, photographing or testing them. Like reading anything consistently, the work becomes familiar and you start to pick up on its patterns — in the case of recipes, that tends to mean similar cooking methods or ingredients. I had a record-scratch moment the other day as I came across a recipe for Vietnamese shrimp that started out by making a dark caramel. Step 1: Almost burn a pot of sugar. Huh?!
Turns out, lots of Vietnamese dishes — which are known for big, bold flavors — build their sauce or marinade from a dark caramel foundation. When I say “dark caramel,” shutter out those visions of some sensual portion of a dreamy indulgent confection. We’re talking almost-burnt sugar that is cooked so long it loses its sweetness and transforms into an enriching base that soaks up savory flavors like a sponge. It’s in that almost-burnt moment, my friends, when greatness happens.
So, as you start to prepare this dish and begin with a whole bunch of honey going into a bowl, ignore that inner record scratch. Go with it and watch as the glaze reduces, bubbles and thickens its way toward that luxe caramel base. Sure it’s a bit different, but be not afraid. You’re doing it right.
Continue Reading Dinner Rush! Vietnamese-Glazed Pork with Edamame
I find few things in life to be as transformational as roasted broccoli. That’s right, I said it: transformational.
I’ve always been a big fan of the green machine (especially in the presence of cheese sauce, but that’s a recipe for another time). It has served me well in many a Chinese takeout container and is simply superb in a cream soup.
It’s not until you roast it, though, that your eyes are finally opened wide and you realize just what you’ve been missing. Deeply caramelizing the tender ends of a broccoli floret not only makes them crunch a little when bitten into, it awakens a hearty, almost meaty flavor that otherwise lies dormant in one of America’s favorite go-to vegetables. Word to the wise: Don’t rush the roasted broccoli. The deeper and darker it caramelizes, the more payoff you’ll have at the dinner table.
Try it alongside toasted walnuts and a balsamic glaze that harmonizes so well you’ll be salivating for the next Meatless Monday.
Continue Reading Dinner Rush! Linguine with Roasted Broccoli and Walnuts
Aside from being painfully chic – what with its “winter white” moniker and all – this recipe is a particularly sentimental one for me as it’s one of the first things my now husband made for me when we first started dating.
You see we both went to culinary school – met there in fact – but he took the road less kitchen-y in favor of other aptitudes (basically, he’s a fantastic marketer and a terrible cook [his words not mine]). Keeping a few culinary tricks up his sleeve, though, he loves making chili and, being that we started dating mid-winter, this recipe has always been a big ol’ seasonal heart-warmer for me.
We call it a white chili because there’s very little tomato in it, but the addition of cumin, beer, tons of beans and a topper of creamy avocado keep it just as satisfying as a traditional red chili. It’s a nice change to help wean you off from the football season barrage.
And take it from a culinary school grad who (claims that he) can’t cook. This recipe is super flexible, welcoming into the pot whatever vegetables you have in the house, and is delicious with the addition of a chopped up sweet potato or chipotle in adobo.
Just make sure to serve it in something chic to keep the momentum going for me, would you please?
Continue Reading Dinner Rush! Winter White Turkey Chili
Being a kid from the snow covered hills of Northern New York, I love a classic Northeast winter. Snow storms, sledding, and mornings so chilly you can see your breath — it’s nostalgic and delicious. That being said, I don’t mind a bit of a refresher on the beauty of summer fun and flavors every now and then.
Enter taco night! Being that tacos come in so many different shapes, sizes and varieties, I opted this week for a simple and delicious chicken & chorizo combo with a big kick up on the spice factor. My husband loves spicy food (I’m getting there, too; give me some time) so I reached for a heavily seasoned fresh chorizo from my local Latin market and topped these tacos with a chipotle cream and quick pickled jalapenos — both of which I made fresh at home in the time it took the meats to cook through.
The toppings that I used were what I had in the fridge. Take my suggestions as a guide, then go ahead and get crazy with whatever you have around. That’s really what’s so great about taco night, isn’t it? They’re easy; they’re interactive; and they’re just so delicious.
Continue Reading Dinner Rush! Spicy Chicken & Chorizo Tacos
It’s now week two of the “Resolution Stretch.” How you holding up? I know, I’d rather we call them long term goals, too. How about a quick and healthy dinner plan to get “two birds with one stone” ahead of the game?
The combo of cooked beans and hearty greens is a pretty classic one in Italian home cooking. The beauty of it, really, is that you can easily make a super hearty dinner for four (or even a few more) that is nutritionally balanced, ready in no time and light on the wallet.
Reach for whatever cooking greens your grocery store has around – mine happened to have some beautiful escarole and rainbow chard so I went with a combination of the two. Anything will work. Although you’d never know it from the depth of flavor, this recipe is also vegetarian. If you prefer a bit of meat with your dinner, go ahead and crisp up some pancetta, bacon, or their leaner Canadian cousin and add that to the mix too.
You’re saving money, time and calories all in one dish. Go on, you Resolution Rockstar.
Continue Reading Dinner Rush! Beans & Greens Spaghetti
Congratulations, digital world — we all made it! We survived the End of the World, championed the drunken Saturday thereafter (and its inevitable sister, hangover Sunday), managed to white knuckle our way through a flawless Christmas day and even shepherded in this millennium’s first lucky number 13.
With all that going on, who’s got time to think about dinner? Moreover, who’s got the stomach for even more leftovers? Take this week off and whip up a meal that is truly a “one dish” wonder.
Continue Reading Dinner Rush! Skillet-Roasted Chicken & Potatoes
My friend David has been staying at our house for the last week. He’s a super famous and recently published doctor of physics at nearby Vassar College with a focus on acoustics. He just wrapped up a year long sabbatical in Germany and is working on settling back home. He’s a blast to have around and also a pain to go to the movies with (“The wavelength reverberations in this room are all off. They should totally be all blah blah physics blah blah”). He’s also a vegetarian, whose culinary integration into our home has truly tested the capacities of my refrigerator.
To say thank you for the temporary lodging, he made dinner for us last night. It left me a bit speechless because (A) it was delicious and (B) he cooked us meat. Legit, no soy involved, 100% grade A meat. To a perfect medium, no less (I chalk it up to beginner’s luck. Also to my telling him when it was ready and slicing it for him).
The star of the meal were his amazing Korean-style roasted Brussels sprouts. They were sweet, spicy, Brussel-y (in a good way), and flavored with his vegetarian secret weapon: gochujang (“go-choo-tjang”). Gochujang is a fermented soybean paste mixed with chili powder that’s a staple in Korean kitchens. Think of it like sriracha meets miso. Also think of it as the only way you’ll ever want to have Brussels sprouts ever again.
Continue Reading Dinner Rush! Korean-Style Brussels Sprouts with Marinated Skirt Steak
I often joke with people that, in my house, bourbon is a food group. Thing is, I’m not really joking. Aside from the standard cache of artisan cocktails I keep flowing in regular rotation, I do my best to work bourbon into as many other edible applications as possible.
This recipe is a match made in heaven with bourbon, fresh thyme and maple syrup. It’s also a really cool method that is universal for preparing almost anything.
Continue Reading Dinner Rush! Sticky Maple Bourbon Chicken
As a nerdy, husky jeans-clad teenager growing up in Northern New York, I always had a soft spot for Chinese takeout night. Like clockwork each week, origami cardboard containers of exotic concoctions like moo goo gai pan, boneless beef spare ribs, lo mein, and chicken with cashews would arrive in a sawed-off cardboard box and be subsequently devoured, funny-shaped flavorless cookies and all. It wasn’t until many years later — when I actually began to study the flavors and cooking methods of East Asia — that I realized how truly awful most of it was. I was just a hungry, hungry little hippo. What was I supposed to know? Knowledge can be a funny thing that way.
Which is why Chinese takeout night still rocks the party in my house. My husband and I crave the Iron Chef-esque challenge of taking the greasy, over-sauced memories of yesteryear and re-creating them over a couple of Tsingtaos or sake margaritas.
Continue Reading Dinner Rush! Miso-Honey Shrimp Stir-Fry